American Decline: What the Foreign Policy Elite Really Fear

John Glaser, April 17, 2012

There is a fixation in elite foreign policy circles these days to speculate on the impending decline of America’s global economic and military hegemony and to lament that decline as the dangerous end to international order. Without global American dominance, goes the thinking, lawless competition and chaos will rule.

Former Carter administration national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s latest book Strategic Vision goes through this lament. He worries that, absent U.S. hegemony, regional powers will be less restrained. Russia will bully tiny Caucasian states like Georgia; China will bully Taiwan; North Korea will threaten South Korea; diminished unilateral support for Israel would destabilize the Middle East; et cetera.

Thomas P.M. Barnett in World Politics Review takes a look at Ian Bremmer’s forthcoming book Every Nation for Itself, another lament of American decline. Post-hegemony, states will be “superseded by a generalized anarchy” in “an era [that] begets a ‘free for all’” and witnesses Asia’s rise, or even more ominously, China’s rise. Bremmer fears a world without the “global leadership” of America to “keep the peace.”

Indeed, this is the most interesting insight I drew from Bremmer’s book: The real danger of a G-Zero world is not the accelerated decline of the West but the unbridled — and unpoliced — appetites of the East. As Bremmer points out repeatedly, Western states need not fear a “world of regions,” his term for an era of pronounced regionalism. By and large, their national structures are more than robust for that scenario. But if it’s regionalism run amuck, the clash of civilizations most unlikely to unfold is not East versus West or West versus South, but East versus South — without a West as referee.

To buy into this is to have very little ability to self-criticize. This line of thinking assumes that the West, and America specifically, has acted like an impartial referee over the international system, which is really an absurd suggestion. What people like Brzezinski and Bremmer and Barnett really fear is not that the Benevolent Empire and the “global order” it preserves will be no more. Rather, the fear is that the selfish, unscrupulous, hypocritical, coercive disposition of other states will prevail instead of the U.S. government’s selfish, unscrupulous, hypocritical, coercive behavior. Other states will get to do the horrible things that only we’ve been able to do for decades.

Overthrowing governments that threaten the state’s supremacy, supporting the world’s worst dictators, committing the supreme international crime of unprovoked war, military bases spanning the globe…these things will no longer be solely American prerogatives.

“The concern over “’decline,’” writes Nikolas Gvosdev, ” is not that the U.S. is about to stop being a superpower; it is that future likely adversaries are not going to be the pushovers the U.S. has gotten used to for the past 20 years.” Daniel Larison comments:

What doesn’t make much sense about “anti-declinist” fearmongering along these lines is that relative decline isn’t something that the U.S. can avoid by making certain policy choices rather than others. It’s certainly possible to sap and exhaust U.S. resources in the fruitless quest to reclaim an unsustainable position. We have spent the last decade doing just that.

The U.S. can react to a multipolar world by demonizing and vilifying other major powers and by punishing them when they fail to fall in line on every international issue, which seems to be the preferred response of the most vocal “anti-declinist” presidential candidate, or it can attempt to find common interests with these other powers. The latter seems advisable, not least because a multipolar world is one in which the demands on and costs to the U.S. are fewer.




35 Responses to “American Decline: What the Foreign Policy Elite Really Fear”

  1. The decline of America is dangerous because the elites are going to have to start acting "crazy" in order to get their way in the world. And isn't it rich that Zbig laments the bullying that supposedly will ensue –Rockefeller rich.

  2. The real peril is that if America no longer dominates the world, our foreign policy "experts" will have to lower their speaking fees.

  3. [T]he fear is that the selfish, unscrupulous, hypocritical, coercive disposition of other states will prevail instead of the U.S. government’s selfish, unscrupulous, hypocritical, coercive behavior. Other states will get to do the horrible things that only we’ve been able to do for decades.

    And, more important to the Amerikan war criminals behind the imperial, murderous foreign policy, they will be "done unto" by those against whom they've committed crimes all these many years. In other words, Karma will be a real bitch.

  4. Be they neo-cons or neo-libs, they are the very authors of the "decline" they fear. Colonial empires be they under the guise of "market captialism or green-gay globalism cannot be sustained. Especially when all the real power flows from nuclear bombs, aircraft carriers and missile submarines.

    This is just more of the same old Clintonista pre-emptive blame-shifting.

    They fear being held to account. Their greatest. Hysterically so.

  5. What these jerks fear is that they will be out of a job and won't have a constant audience for their bullcrap.

  6. Is Amerika the 4th Reich?

  7. The New York Times wrote about China moving in on America's backyard in the tourist dependent Caribbean for which neither the US nor the islands have an answer for. We are caught between declining American dollars,China's benevolence and her moving into the tourist sector still dominated by North America.

    The tourist dependent islands economies see America's decline as a frightening curiosity that spells our economic doom also. Hope or fright as China, a BRICS member forges alliances with which seems to be antagonizing our economic patron, America? Should America even stare warily at us, island nations, we shudder in fear. Yet what options do we have in order to float out this global financial meltdown?
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/world/americas/

  8. WE here at AW.C who oppose the NEW endless war and wars which we are being FORCED to PAY for that these aforementioned "elites" have foist upon US, we need to shift our thinking away from seeing these "elites" as "our" elites…. These Neos, especially of the con persuasion, and their enablers of the liberal persuasion are anti-American. They are implacably opposed to "letting America be America" and if you don't see these "elites" tampering to neuter our constitution and our laws… to enable their "creative destruction" agenda then you have become part of the problem…

  9. I agree with the points made in John Glaser's article. The arrogance, hubris and amorality of the foreign policies of the elites have contributed to do America's economic decline, as does the thorough corruption of its government to the highest bidders. The foreign polices have been a mixture of megalomania and serving special interests.

  10. Far from declining, the United States will be a stronger nation–economically, morally, and, yes, militarily–if it pursues a noninterventionist foreign policy. Let other nations mind their own business, let them pursue their own interests, and let them provide for their own defense.

    The United States cannot be–must not be–nanny to the world.

  11. What the Foreign Policy Elite Really Fear

    That they’ll have to get real jobs and become productive members of society?

  12. Orville, allow me to agree with your comments. Our strength, as a nation of laws and long stated principles, will flourish by preserving our economic and military strength so wa can be the beacon on a hill that we claim to be. Why, just oh why it is so difficult for a great number of our people to see such basic truths!

  13. It's not a matter of if america is going to decline and fall or not. It's a matter of when the empire will fall
    which is natural for all empires that have risen on this planet over the past 6 centuries:
    1 – Where is the Mongol empire?
    2 – Where is the muslim Caliphate that control Spain for 8 centuries and dominated the Middle East and Africa?
    3 – Where is the Dutch empire?
    4- Where is the Brutish empire?
    5- Where is the French empire?
    6- Where is the Spanish empire?
    7- Where is the Portuguese empire?
    8- Where is the Japanese empire?
    9- Where is the Soviet empire?
    10- Where is the Ottoman empire?

    etc…

    Why can somewhere believe that the American empire is going to last forever?
    It has just crossed a bifurcation point with the external debt dwarfing the GDB and that's just the beginning. When an empire starts paying $0.5 trillion just to service it's debt, when do you think it'll be able to pay it back???? Never!!!

  14. had to cry over that blog post it was of superior quality. what’s up with that?

  15. Although I agree with the premise of this article and the spirit of the comments that follow, I would have to include a profound fear of the transition from a uni-polar to a multi-polar world this article, and the books and authors it mentions describes. It is a terra incognita complete nukes and the latest, as yet unused, military technologies. As much as I deplore the US and its use of her power and must admit that it has been a restrained use. All Empires are not created equal, and all reflect the cultures values that weild them. When the US (and Europe with her) lose their position of dominance in the world, and the "free for all" begins, the world will look like renaissance Italy, but Cesare Borgia will have nukes. Maybe some euro-centric racism lurks in the shadows of my judgement but as bad as the West has behaved in the hegemonic position it has enjoyed for the last five centuries, I fear the end of it. Ordered global injustice is preferable to genocidal anarchy.

  16. Although I agree with the premise of this article and the spirit of the comments that follow it, I would have to include a profound fear of the transition from a uni-polar to a multi-polar world that this article, and the books and authors it mentions, describes. It is a terra incognita complete with nukes, and the latest, as yet unused, military technologies. Think August 1914. As much as I deplore the US and how she has used her power, I must admit that it has been a restrained use when compared to the brutal empires of the 20th century, such as the Japanese Imperial, the Nazi, and the Soviets. All Empires are not created equal, and all Empires reflect the values that weild them. When the US (and Europe with her) lose their position of dominance in the world, and the "free for all" begins, the world will look like renaissance Italy, but Cesare Borgia will have nukes. Maybe some euro-centric racism lurks in the shadows of my judgement but as bad as the West has behaved in the hegemonic position it has enjoyed for the last five centuries, I fear the end of it. Ordered global injustice is preferable to genocidal anarchy. We should all be careful what we wish for. We might get it.

  17. In response to John P's fears…
    Don't worry John, after the last standing superpower falls, you'll be surprised at how well the world will take care of itself!

    This superpower thing has grown tiresome and current events proclaim this LOUDLY (especially at home in the good ole US of A).

    The world doesn't need (and NEVER needed) a bunch of FAT CATS from the west to play mother hen. In fact while posing as mother hens, these fat cats did just the opposite…which is why we are in this soup today (think about the arbitrary borders laid down by the British in the Middle East with no consideration for ethnic culture and demographics, the "divide and rule techniques" used in India and other colonies; think about the brutal, but obedient-to-America dictators who were propped up by the USA for decades in the Middle East and Latin America, think about the French savagery in their colonies.

    Secondly, know this: The West would not be its well-heeled self had it not been for the looting and plundering of their colonies (eg: When the British East India Co. entered India, she was the richest country in the world and when they left in 1947/48, India was among the poorest of nations. And India is not the exception among colonies but the rule (pun intended).

    So, empires have taken us to hell and back. Whatever follows will be a walk in the park by comparison…PROVIDED the falling western stars such as the USA, UK, France, etc. DO NOT continue to sell arms and ammunition to the remaining tinpot dictators. Thanks for lending an ear.

  18. A multi-polar world is in accordance with the laws of nature. A uni-polar world isn't.

  19. Upon launching the ill-fated Peloponnesian War, Thucydides records Pericles saying these words that informed my comment:

    "Nor is it any longer possible for you to give up this empire … Your empire is now like a tyranny: it may have been wrong to take it; it is certainly dangerous to let it go."

    It was wrong for America to "take it." It cannot be denied that it will prove dangerous to "let it go." Just you wait and see. Human nature is a constant in the political universe.

  20. In response to John P's fears…
    While I do admire the man for many of his accomplishments, Pericles is hardly the voice of wisdom in the context of superpowers or foreign policy. he did EXACTLY what the current super power is doing!

    Consider the following…

    Pericles hoped to establish Athenian political dominance in Greece by creating puppet governments in Boeotia (central Greece), but control of the area was lost by 445 B.C. Thereafter he concentrated on building the Delian League into a powerful sea empire for Athens. Pericles established and maintained friendly rulers in the Aegean city-states and established Athenian colonies there, as well as in Italy. The funds of the league were used by Athens alone. During 440–439 a revolt on Samos was put down.

    Sorry, but this is the wrong source of inspiration John P.

  21. Good point Ray.
    I too have never understood why history has been so kind to Pericles. He represents the best of neo-conservative and neo-liberal political philosophy, while his political offspring, Cleon and Alcibiades, represent the worst.
    Too reiterate my original point though, what came after the collapse of the bi-polar "cold-war" (then hot war) between Athens and Sparta, was Alexander and Oriental tyranny. Power hates a vacuum and something will fill the hole left by the United States when our economy collapses and it becomes impossible to maintain global hegemony.
    I can think of no example where an Empire collapsed and peace and prosperity followed. I am against Empire many reasons but one important one is that it is an unsustainable model that is always followed by chaos. Thus, "Nor is it any longer possible for you to give up this empire … your empire is now like a tyranny: it may have been wrong to take it; it is certainly dangerous to let it go." My agreement with Pericles' statement was my agreement that it is dangerous to let it go. That is an observation of political cause and effect, not a policy recommendation. Thanks Ray!

  22. In response to John P's fears…
    John, what Pericles (and you) are saying is, in a way a moot point because there is no question of America (or any other empire) "letting go". No empire does…EMPIRES COLLAPSE, they don't let go by choice. So, dangerous or not, this empire too will come to an end, not by choice, but by the natural order of things. Things will not be as bad as you think (after the fall of the empire). Look at Asia after Britain, South America after Spain, etc. While there are many problems, it is not chaotic nor catastrophic. On the other hand, what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan is chaotic and the ONLY way out for the US is to talk. Conventional military power is not effective when you are the occupier…because all the natives have to do is to wait you out (and you get bankrupted in the process). Empires come and go and the world somehow muddles through it all. Call it God's hand or what you will. Peace.

  23. Thanks for the dialog Ray. I hope, for my grandchildren's sake, you are correct.
    And likewise…Peace!

  24. A final thought Ray-

    …. No empire does…EMPIRES COLLAPSE, they don't let go by choice.

    The historical anomaly of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev's peaceful dismantling of the Soviet Empire may have been a "collapse" in that its maintenance became impossible, but it does fit well with your thesis in that it was followed by relative calm. Gorbachev navigated very dangerous waters in a way that he doesn't get enough credit for. Therefore, the Soviet Union comes as close to being an Empire that "let go by choice" as I can think of. It will be an irony of history that the "evil empire" disintegrated without a shot fired and the United States' Empire may go down like a squealing pig.

  25. Here's the perfect example of what the article discuses. The US may have just found its match in the final phase of its self-inflicted delirium:

    "China military warns of confrontation over seas"
    http://news.yahoo.com/china-military-warns-confro

    BEIJING (Reuters) – China's military warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have raised risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea in the toughest high-level warning yet after weeks of tensions.

    China's official Liberation Army Daily warned that recent jostling with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have sent ships could boil over into outright conflict, and laid much of the blame at Washington's door.

    This week American and Filipino troops launched a fortnight of annual naval drills amid the stand-off between Beijing and Manila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay.

    The joint exercises are held in different seas around the Philippines; the leg that takes place in the South China Sea area starts on Monday.

    "Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force," said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People's Liberation Army.

    "Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability."

    [...]

  26. The day Zbigniew Brzezinski takes his last breath will be a good day for the world.

  27. [...] John Glaser writes for Antiwar.com about the true concerns US imperialists about coming time where foreign countries aren’t so easily bullied into submission: There is a fixation in elite foreign policy circles these days to speculate on the impending decline of America’s global economic and military hegemony and to lament that decline as the dangerous end to international order. Without global American dominance, goes the thinking, lawless competition and chaos will rule. [...]

  28. Delusional thinking of a bunch of psychpaths who can't get it up anymore and are in denial that it is too late even for Viagra….

  29. [...] potential adversaries (China) from daring to grow their economies or build up their militaries. Those are strictly American prerogatives. And defense officials don’t mind admitting it. Print This | var [...]

  30. Or become irrelevant.

  31. The day Zbigniew Brzezinski takes his last breath will be a good day for the world. It is great to have the opportunity to read a good quality article with useful information on

  32. Foreign policy course is made for the good relations between countries with one another. Many things would have to be considered when making policy, the U.S. should be supporting this policy is not just reject it.

  33. They are very serious in doing that. So don't be too easy on them.
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  34. The question is this: if you see all this, what can we do about it? I'm serious. Reading antiwar.com and voting for 3rd parties is all well and good, but it won't end the power of these "elites."

  35. They're going to have to do something to keep the sheeple in order too. Along with that diminished hegemony is a notably shrinking piece of the great American pie. The next generation will be the first that doesn't have it as good as the one before. And that lack of 'good' will be remarkable.

    Americans could see some of that 'bullying' at home, up front and personal.